Flaxseed is a nutrient-dense food that offers many health benefits primarily related to its high content of omega-3 fats and antioxidants. In this article I break down the health benefits of flaxseed, potential side effects, how to use and store it, and top brands so you can incorporate it into your diet with ease!
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Table of Contents
What is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is a nutrient-dense seed derived from the blue-flowering flax plant (1).
Flaxseeds have a mildly nutty flavor and are full of nutrients including fiber, protein, omega-3 fats, and antioxidants.
Flaxseed can be used in a variety of ways to boost the nutritional value of your favorite meals.
Golden Flaxseed vs Brown Flaxseed
There are two types of flaxseed: golden flaxseed and brown flaxseed.
According to the Flax Council of Canada, Canada is the leading producer of flaxseed in the world, where brown flaxseed is most abundantly grown (2).
Golden flaxseed is more common in the United States, with North Dakota being the number one producer.
Both golden and brown flaxseed are similar in terms of nutrition, though the brown variety is slightly higher in omega-3 fats, protein, and antioxidants (3).
Golden flaxseed contains 2.1 grams of omega-3 fats (51%), while brown flaxseed contains 2.5 grams of omega-3 fats (59%) per tablespoon.
Brown flaxseed is more commonly found in stores, though golden flaxseed can be found in health food stores and online.
What are the Benefits of Flaxseed?
Flaxseed is known for its rich source of omega-3 fats, high fiber content, and antioxidant profile.
One tablespoon of ground flaxseed provides the following (4):
- 37 calories
- 3 grams total fat (including 2-2.5 grams of ALA omega-3 fats)
- 2 grams carbohydrate
- 1.9 grams fiber
- 1.3 grams protein
Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits that flaxseed provides.
1. Omega 3 Fats
Flaxseeds contain more omega-3 fats than any other plant food (5). Just one tablespoon of flaxseed contains around 2.5 grams of ALA, which exceeds the daily recommendation of 1.1 grams for women and 1.6 grams for men (6).
Note that the primary type of omega-3 fat in flaxseed is ALA. This essential fatty acid is converted into two other important forms of omega-3 fats in the body, known as EPA and DHA, but in very small amounts.
This means that you should also aim to consume fatty fish like salmon 2 times per week, or take an omega-3 supplement that provides a minimum of 500 mg of EPA + DHA combined to ensure that you’re receiving all three forms of omega-3 fats.
Flaxseed has an impressive ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids, which is important for regulating inflammation in the body and ultimately reducing the risk of disease.
Flaxseed consists of 16% omega-6 fat and 57% omega-3 fat . This means flaxseed has nearly 4x more omega 3 fats than omega 6 fats, with an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 1:4 (7).
According to an article in Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, Americans are “deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids” in their diets (8).
This article also reported that the current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 15:1 and higher. In other words, we are consuming 15x more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, which creates a state of inflammation in the body and has damaging effects on our health.
The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 ranges from 4:1 to 1:1. This means that you should be eating 1 gram of omega-3 fats for every 1-4 grams of omega-6 fats in your diet.
Research shows that we evolved consuming a 1:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats, but the exact ratio really depends on your current health status (9).
If you are generally healthy, a ratio of 4:1 is likely appropriate. If you have a chronic health condition and experience higher levels of inflammation, a range of 2:1 or even 1:1 is recommended to help reduce the excess inflammation in the body.
Diets that are too high in omega-6 fats promote inflammation in the body. Omega-6 fats are primarily found in foods containing corn oil, cottonseed, soybean, canola, and sunflower oils.
Incorporating flaxseed into your diet is an easy way to increase your intake of omega-3 fats and reduce inflammation.
Other health benefits of flaxseed include:
2. Reduces the Risk of Heart Disease
The omega-3 fats in flaxseed reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; slowing the development of plaque formation in the arteries; and improving arterial flexibility (10).
3. Improves Blood Glucose Levels
In one study, participants with pre-diabetes and type-2 diabetes who consumed 13 grams (~2 tablespoons) flaxseed for 14-weeks saw reductions in blood glucose levels (11).
4. Protects Against Cancer
According to an article published in Nutrients, “Cancer of the prostate gland, lung, colon, ovary, endometrium, hepatocellular, and cervix have been inhibited by flaxseed” (12).
This article also reported that flaxseed consumption reduced tumor growth in women with breast cancer. Benefits were seen when participants consumed 25 grams (around 3.5 tablespoons) of flaxseed daily.
In addition, studies show that lignans (the primary type of antioxidant in flaxseed), may protect against certain cancers, including breast and prostate cancer, by slowing the growth of tumors (13).
5. Promotes Healthy Skin
Flaxseed skin benefits can be attributed to the omega-3 fats, lignans, and vitamin E that it contains. These nutrients are commonly added to anti-aging creams due to their benefits on skin health.
Omega-3 fats for example are shown to improve skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and dermatitis due to the powerful anti-inflammatory properties (14, 15).
The lignans in flaxseed have been found to improve skin elasticity, protect collagen from breakdown, and stimulate collagen synthesis (16).
Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant which exhibits anti-aging properties on the skin by reducing inflammation, keeping the skin supple and hydrated, and protecting it from UV damage (17).
In turn, the compounds in flaxseed can help to reduce the formation of fine lines and wrinkles to keep skin youthful.
6. Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
The vitamin E in flaxseed also protects the brain. Research shows that high plasma levels of vitamin E are associated with improved cognitive performance and reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease (18).
7. Supports Gut Health and Digestion
Flaxseed is a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, providing around 2 grams of total fiber per tablespoon. The fiber in flaxseed helps to regulate digestion and reduce constipation by stimulating the movement of food and waste through the GI tract (19).
The fiber in flaxseed also acts as a prebiotic, and is shown to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut (20). This is important since the bacteria in our gut influence many aspects of our physical and mental health such as immunity, skin health, fat storage, and more.
Check out my article, Superfoods for Gut Health, to learn more about gut health and the top foods that support it.
8. Reduces Risk of Chronic Disease
Flaxseeds are a rich source of antioxidants including vitamin E, lignans, and p-Coumaric acid. These antioxidants protect our cells from free radicals, which slows the aging process at the cellular level and reduces the risk of disease (21).
Potential Side Effects
While flaxseed offers many powerful health benefits, there is risk for adverse side effects if consumed in excess amounts or if you have an allergy to flaxseed.
Since flaxseed is high in fiber, consuming large doses can result in gas, bloating, and abdominal cramps. This is generally only seen when consuming greater than ¼ cup of flaxseed at a time.
Some people may have an allergy to flaxseed, which can cause symptoms typical of food allergies including hives, itching, tingling in the mouth, swelling of the face and/or mouth, vomiting, or anaphylaxis in severe cases.
Sticking to the recommended serving size of 2-3 tablespoons is generally well tolerated in most adults. If you have a reaction to flaxseed, see your healthcare provider to test for allergy.
How to use Flaxseed
Flaxseed can be purchased as whole seeds, ground, or as flaxseed oil. There are different uses for each:
Toss whole flaxseeds onto salads, granola, hot or cold cereal, or stir frys for an added crunch.
Ground flaxseed (sometimes referred to as “milled” flaxseed) has a fine texture which makes it a great way to boost the nutrient-content of foods without a noticeable change in taste or texture.
Try adding ground flaxseed to oatmeal, baked goods, yogurt, or smoothies (like my Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie or Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake).
Flaxseeds are cold-pressed to extract their natural oil, which has a mild nutty flavor. The oil is a rich source of omega-3 fats, but lacks the fiber and lignans found in the whole and ground flaxseed.
Flaxseed oil should not be used in cooking due to its low smoke point of 225 F. When flaxseed oil is heated above this temperature, the oil oxidizes, creating toxic fumes and free radicals that are harmful to our health.
According to an article in Toxicological Sciences, acrolein is a toxic compound produced when oils are overheated beyond their smoke point, which damages cellular DNA and is potentially associated with many health conditions including cancer.
Due to the low smoke point, flaxseed oil is best used in salad dressings, marinades, and dips, or as a finishing oil to drizzle over steamed vegetables, cooked grains, baked potatoes, pasta, or grain bowls.
Baking with Flaxseed
One of the easiest ways to incorporate flaxseed into your diet is by adding it into baked goods.
The almost unnoticeable flavor and texture of ground flaxseed makes it a perfect addition to breads, muffins, brownies, bars, and even cookies.
To bake with flaxseed, simply add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed into the batter along with the other dry ingredients that the recipe calls for.
All forms of flaxseed should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark location due to the high content of omega-3 fats, which are very sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen.
When exposed to heat, light, or oxygen, the fats in flaxseed begin to oxidize and become “rancid.” Not only does oxidation negatively alter the smell and flavor of the flaxseeds, but it also reduces the nutritional quality and creates free radicals during the process.
Free radicals damage the DNA within our cells which speeds up the aging process, promotes inflammation, and contributes to cancer and disease (22, 23).
For these reasons, the refrigerator is the best place to store flaxseed (including whole, ground, and flaxseed oil) to extend the shelf-life and nutritional quality. You can also store whole or ground flaxseed in the freezer.
Flaxseed can last around 6-12 months in the refrigerator depending on which form it’s in. Whole flaxseeds will last for about one year, while ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil have a shorter shelf-life of 4-6 months, since the fats are more easily exposed to oxidation than in whole-seed form.
Best Flaxseed Brands
Flaxseed is typically located in the baking aisle at the grocery store near other nuts and seeds. It may also be found in the specialty or health-food aisles, and can also be purchased online.
The cost of flaxseed varies from around $0.20-$0.75 per ounce ($3 to $10 per pound). Whole flaxseed tends to cost less than ground flaxseed, and can be easily ground at home using a small coffee or spice grinder.
Here’s a few of the best flaxseed brands (including prices):
Bob’s Red Mill
- Bob’s Red Mill Ground Golden Flaxseed: $10.99 for 32-ounces ($0.37 per ounce). Get it here.
- Bob’s Red Mill Organic Ground Golden Flaxseed: $9.43 for 16 ounces ($0.59 per ounce). Get it here.
- Bob’s Red Mill Organic Whole Golden Flaxseed: $7.99 for 13 ounces ($0.61/ounce). Get it here.
- Spectrum Organics Ground Flaxseed: $11.24 for 24 ounces ($0.47 per ounce). Get it here.
- Aldi offers Simply Nature Non-GMO Flaxseed in whole or ground form for only $3.39 per 16-ounce package ($0.21 per ounce). This is my personal favorite flaxseed that I use most often.
Flaxseed is a nutrient-dense seed that has many health benefits including reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer, improving blood glucose levels, promoting healthy skin, and supporting gut health and digestion.
Flaxseed is very versatile and can be used in its whole-seed, ground, or oil forms to accompany almost any meal. Ground flaxseed has an almost undetectable flavor and texture, making it a great addition to smoothies, yogurt, baked goods, oatmeal, and many other dishes.
Flaxseed should be stored in a cool, dark location (ideally the refrigerator) because of the high content of omega-3 fats, which are extremely sensitive to heat, light, and oxygen.
There are many brands of flaxseed available in-store and online. The cost of flaxseed ranges from as low as $0.21 per ounce (Aldi flaxseed), up to $0.75 per ounce. Some of the best flaxseed brands include Aldi, Bob’s Red Mill, and Spectrum Organics.
Now that you know how nutritious and versatile flaxseed is, explore the many ways that it can be incorporated into your diet!
If you’re looking for specific recipes that include flaxseed, try my Peanut Butter Banana Green Smoothie or Pumpkin Pie Protein Shake that both use ground flaxseed!